NEW YORK
WITH FEW FASHION FIREWORKS AND THE BIG GUNS YET TO COME, IT WAS A SLOW MONDAY UNDER THE TENTS.

Carolina Herrera: Let the trends come and go. There will always be a customer for clothes that are timeless and elegant. But this lady's no shrinking violet. She loves strong color, bold patterns, and at night she even likes to show off a bit. Carolina Herrera understands this woman perfectly, which is exactly why she has such a loyal following. Retailers say her collection sells up a storm. Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, reports a 65 percent spring sell-through, reflecting across-the-board strength in suits, dresses and eveningwear.
For fall, Herrera was in a particularly feisty mood, sometimes veering toward overkill. She opened with a group of bright orange shaped dresses and suits, and then moved into softer tones--pale blues and lilacs, in solids and plaids. She tinkered with textures, playing velvet against lodens for some smart suits, and lining corduroy or mohair coats with fake fur. At night, Herrera showed some restraint with a drop-dead black silk and lace dress. But usually she went for high-voltage gowns, pairing bright silk bodices with velvet skirts. She also gave a nod in an unlikely direction--Helmut Lang's. Remember his industrial zippers? Herrera took them, studded them with "diamonds" and used them to close black wool columns for those big events in Cybertown.

Badgley Mischka: Mark Badgley and James Mischka are on the hip track. That's good and bad--good when the clothes were hip, like the black leather coat and skinny pants; bad when the high-priced stylist took over. While some of the looks would be equally at home at The Bowery Bar or Sammy's Roumanian, the runway trappings of spiked hair, Mod makeup, a blaring sound track and a digression into Prada Land were out of sync with what these boys are all about--glamorous evening gowns and beautifully cut suits. And there were plenty of both. The beaded or cut velvet columns were knockouts. And when it came to the pantsuits, some were glamorous enough to wear to your own wedding--at least the second time around.Mark Eisen: It was synthetic hip meets Conservative Chic on the Mark Eisen runway. Minimal Mark knows how to cut a modern suit, and this season it was slim drainpipe pants or an ankle-length skirt paired with a cropped or fitted jacket. The show started out strongly with wool sateen suits, pretty suedette jacket dresses and long cashmere columns. Eisen also showed some good cashmere coats trimmed in fake fur, silk puffer jackets and rich chocolate patent leather car coats. But Eisen went into a synthetic frenzy showing too many shapes in bright nylon sailcloth, leatherette and shiny electric lame.

Yeohlee: This season, cold spareness gives way to a decidedly more sophisticated mood at Yeohlee, where high heels, icy pastels and even bright red made it to her runway. The collection was full of elegant coats, pretty dresses and crisp suits that sometimes were a bit too mumsey. But Yeohlee's amusing black rubber jeans, jumpsuits and car coats made one overlook some of the more dowdy suits. But why bother with those evening gowns that look like they belong in a design student's project rather than a seasoned pro's collection.

Byron Lars: With the clever use of cartoons flashed onto a screen, Lars told an old story with a chic twist: trashy trailer park girl finds a better life in the big city. He began by dolling up his mobile heroine, Trayla Parker, in a fitted quilted satin jacket and slim brown pants. He even provided a villainess, Fiona, who wore a black leather halter complete with bolero and sexy tweed pants. Lars can dish out some good ideas, but sometimes he went overboard, such as when he brought back those horrible gauchos from the Seventies. But there was a double happy ending: Trayla married a rich investment banker, and Byron proved he still has a knack for fun.

Christian Blanken: In his second collection, Christian Blanken struck a refined balance between the minimal and the dramatic. Beautifully contoured evening jackets supplied the drama and turned up over everything from long, Ballet Russe-style tulle skirts to taffeta capri pants. Blanken showed restraint with spare, tailored dresses and svelte pantsuits.

Kenneth Richard: Richard has always loved to play with men's wear concepts, and this season he turned out one of his strongest collections. There were funky Edwardian gents in slim striped suits with sexy, sheer shirts, and some hip fake pony jackets. He went a little haywire with his dreary crushed velvet robes and also with his styling--it tried hard to be on the edge, but just didn't cut it.Elizabeth Fillmore: It was all-out glamour at Elizabeth Fillmore. While there's a touch of Galliano, the designer is creating her own signature. She does it with sculpted deep bronze shimmering gowns with draped necklines or cowl backs, and fluid pantsuits in gold-coated silk chiffon. Boucle jackets were a sporty surprise over her sexy, bare dresses. But the themes wore thin with repetition.

Colin Baer: Little Red Riding Hood came to life at Colin Baer's show at Industria. Models carrying baskets of goodies sashayed down the runway wearing sweet hooded sweaters with flippy corduroy skirts and a great crocodile-embossed trench. Unfortunately, Baer's capes and capelets were straight out of a scary fairy tale.

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